On May 8, 2015, I traveled to New York City to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. As I prepared for the trip, I thought of all the people I would have loved to join me to share in our accomplishment together. I decided I would write an account of the weekend. When we started Inheritance of Hope eight years ago, I never dreamed of us getting this kind of recognition. I can’t wait to see where we will be eight years from now!
Friday, May 8, 2015
I woke up this morning at 3:48, 2 minutes before the alarm went off. I left the house at 4:10 for a 6:45 Delta flight from Greenville, SC to LaGuardia. The view of the mountains enshrined in fog as we took off was beautiful! Since I could only take one guest, I decided to bring Eric Miller, IoH Director of Marketing and Communications, because I knew he would do a great job of capturing the event for all of the people I wish could be alongside:
- My parents, Dr. Darwin and Dr. Barbara Milligan: They have provided endless encouragement and opportunities for me to pursue my interests. My best qualities can be traced directly to the traits they modeled. What better place to celebrate your heritage than Ellis Island? I wish they could be there to be honored, and to celebrate generations who came before them.
- My siblings and extended family: I am blessed to have a large and amazingly close-knit family, including Kristen’s family. Each of them has made sacrifices that shape the person I have become. I wish they were with me.
- IoH staff, board, volunteers, donors, and partners: This is unquestionably a recognition and validation of Inheritance of Hope’s work. So many have sacrificially given of themselves for IoH to be where we are today. I wish you could all be there to celebrate our achievement.
- IoH families: The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is a validation of the significant and largely unmet need our families face. They understand and appreciate that IoH enters into a place that few dare to go. I wish they were here.
- Friends: I am blessed to have many great friends all over the country. A number of them, in particular, have been there whenever I need them. They have supported my family and me through good times and bad. I wish they were here.
- Colleagues from the past: I have had the pleasure of working with and for many great people over the years. I am excited that a number of my friends from the West Point Band will share in the festivities because they’ll be there performing. In fact, it is one of them who nominated me for this honor – Thank you, Nick!
- My children: I would love to share this with each of them in person. I can’t imagine receiving a more distinguished award in my lifetime, so I will likely have no better opportunity for recognition. However, the best recognition anyone can hope to receive will not come in this lifetime, and I will continue to press on toward that prize.
- Kristen: More than anyone, I wish Kristen were here. The painful reality of loss is that any celebration is somewhat muted because she’s not here to share in it with us.
After a quiet afternoon catching up on some work and getting a little rest, we headed out for the Chairman’s Welcome Reception at the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. During the cocktail reception, I had the opportunity to talk with Frank Shankwitz, founder of Make-a-Wish Foundation, and his wife Kitty; Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX and his wife Peggy; Trisha Bailey, COO and Owner of Verso Wealth Strategists; Cathy O’Reilly, Manager of Commercial Air Aviation at DHL; Patty and Jay Baker, retired President of Kohl’s; and Andrew Sabin, President of Sabin Metal Corporation. Among many other notable recipients this year were Meredith Vieira, 14-time Emmy-winning TV journalist; Mariano Rivera, retired Yankees relief pitcher; John Sculley, former CEO of Pepsi and Apple; and Howard Lutnick, Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm that tragically lost 658 employees on September 11, 2001.
For dinner, we had filet mignon and salmon, and a really beautiful cheesecake in a tower of chocolate for dessert. Delicious! We heard from emcee Marvin Scott, as well as host Nasser J. Kazeminy. After dinner, a vocal group made up of the Broadway cast of Jersey Boys provided entertainment. They were terrific!
Saturday, May 9, 2015
I checked in at the Ritz-Carlton at 4:45 and received my passport to board the ferry. They put a boutonniere on my tux, and then I had an official photo taken. I had another photo taken with Chairman Kazeminy before we walked as a group to the ferry at Battery Park with a bagpipe leading the way.
A red carpet cordon of uniformed ROTC cadets greeted us when we got to Ellis Island. My friends from the West Point Band played as we entered. It was a special moment for me although it was odd not to be among them. We had a brief rehearsal for the ceremony before it was time to process into the hall for the Medal of Honor ceremony.
I was inspired and humbled by the stories told by the distinguished speakers. Chairman Kazeminy shared his incredible story of coming to America with only $250, and going on to employ 250,000 people. The Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, Cathy L. Lanier, spoke of overcoming the challenges of being abandoned by her father, and being a single parent with just a ninth grade education. Meredith Vieira’s story resonated the most with me, as she emotionally spoke of all the advantages she was given through her parents’ lives and legacy, and how much she appreciated all her parents had done for her.
Just after Meredith finished her speech, it was time for me to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. While they read a short bio about my work with Inheritance of Hope, the medal was placed around my neck.
After the ceremony, I had the chance to catch up with my friends and former colleagues from the West Point Band. Dinner in the Great Hall followed. It was amazing to be in this special place where so many ancestors entered our country – very special! I also enjoyed seeing fellow honorees I had gotten to know on Friday.
We then boarded the ferry for a private fireworks show over the Statue of Liberty. The fog did not detract from my enjoyment and appreciation for all of the festivities. I embraced the feeling that this was a private show just for us. The fog added to the sense that no one in the world but us was there to appreciate this special treat!
Throughout the weekend, I reflected on how excited Kristen would be about the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. More than anything, she would be proud. She would celebrate my perseverance through the challenges of the past few years. Raising three children as a single parent, dealing with the loss of Kristen, and guiding Inheritance of Hope through the loss of its visionary has been a difficult proposition – overwhelmingly so at times. Kristen would be thrilled with the growing number of people who support Inheritance of Hope. She would love how God continues to be honored and glorified in our ministry. Finally, she would love how we continue to inspire hope and in the process continue to build her legacy.
Click here to see pictures from Deric's award weekend.